After my long trip to America and Canada in 2007, I thought I'd stick to the UK this year. This gives me an excuse to visit some of the Landmark properties I've been meaning to go to for a few years. Peake's House had several things going for it, great architecture, a good central position in Colchester for a weekend visit, not too difficult to get to (if you discount driving round the M25 on a Friday afternoon) and it's situated in the same town as Unhindered by Talent otherwise known as weathergirllj and family.
I arrived at the house (after a tussle with the one-way system) on Friday evening. The housekeeper had kindly turned the kitchen and hallway lights on so the windows were welcoming in the dark; it was also one of the warmest Landmarks I've stayed in, which added to the welcome. Most of the lighting is low energy bulbs in table or standard lamps which gives a lovely impression of how it may have looked by candlelight as you can see in the picture above. The house was originally built in the 14th century and was 2 houses which have been knocked together, resulting in interesting changes of level as you wander about.
There's an open fire in the sitting room, and although I didn't use the entire grate I had fun building and tending a fire each evening.
On Saturday I met up with weathergirllj and we did a tour of Colchester - luckily she had a nifty little walking guide handy. It's easy to find your way in the town since there's a stonking great water tower at one end of the High Street. It's called Jumbo, named after the famous elephant by the Rev. Irvine, the rector who had the misfortune to have Jumbo just in front of his front door. The other main feature of the town is the Roman Wall, large sections of which remain. It has a unique style of Roman bricks in several courses with a cement/stone mixture as infill. Not only do you see this in the wall, but in the castle and churches since large portions of the medieval architecture were done with whatever building materials were at hand e.g. the wall! A Colchester church is instantly recognisable by its Roman bricks and the likelihood of it having part of its tower or steeple knocked off by earthquake or siege.
One of the most unexpected finds was St Helen's Chapel. On the outside it's a plain ancient building (reputed to date back to Saxon times) but on the inside it's a Greek Orthodox place of worship filled with glittering icons in gemlike colours and golden highlights. When I investigated it a bit more this entry I found out it was actually a Quaker meeting house (quite a contrast!) at one time, and there is an old Quaker Burial ground next to it.
In the evening we dined on Fish and Chips from Dr Chippy's - big portions, nicely fried - at the kitchen table, before retiring to the sitting room where we amused ourselves by reading the various literature provided. The handbook and house history were both interesting, but the highlight was probably the selected readings from the logbook which started in 1995 and had a long-running saga about the slug which had once been seen in the house - it was still being mentioned in 2006 :-) Unhindered by Talent were so taken by the visit that they borrowed the handbook to look into taking a holiday in a Landmark themselves.
On the Sunday weathergirllj and I went to the Colchester Quaker meeting. The meeting house is an early 19th century building, but it has a lovely modern meeting room added to the back. It's a hexagonal (octagonal?) wood-panelled room which faces east so was filled with light for the meeting. It's always interesting to attend another meeting so although they are all the same, they also each have their own atmosphere. (One of the wise suggestions made to those thinking of becoming Quakers is to attend other meetings apart from your local, so you don't just join a group of people you've grown comfortable with.) This seemed a very lively group with much interesting ministry. In fact, there was so much ministry that they had an impromptu meeting afterwards to discuss some of the ideas that had emerged.
We didn't stay for the meeting. but went to back to weathergirllj's house for lunch. I provided a Melon, Grape and Ginger fruit salad, but the melon was quite bland due to not really being in season so not too exciting. Afterwards I went off to do the Castle tour; I turned out to be the only one to turn up for the three o' clock slot so had a personal tour. It's a real adventure since you go down into the Roman vaults which used to hold up the Temple of Claudius and which were reused by the Normans for their castle (along with, yes you've guessed it, more bricks from the wall!) and then up onto the battlements. There's also an excellent museum actually within the castle, which gives you the slightly surreal experience of walking through displays and then ending up in front of another section of the castle wall. Afterwards I returned to weathergirllj's and we chatted for a while (mostly about Landmarks) before I returned to Peake's House where I spent the evening sitting in front of the fire reading. The location can be quite noisy, particularly on a summer weekend, but in the winter it's quite entertaining to sit in such an old house and hear the modern world pass by.
My visit to Essex wasn't quite finished since weathergirllj had suggested I visit Copford Church before I returned home and it was an excellent suggestion. From the outside it's an interesting enough building surrounded by trees, but inside it has the most amazing surviving medieval wall paintings. The most detailed behind the altar have some Victorian overpainting but give a wonderful idea of what the whole original building must have looked like, and there are other less altered paintings all over the walls. Quite amazing in such an off the beaten track place, and a great end to the weekend.
Link to Photobucket Album for Colchester Visit